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Overdose deaths could stay high in Southern Interior

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April 15, 2016 - 10:30 AM


THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - Don’t expect the epidemic of illicit drug overdoses to end tomorrow, the Interior Health Authority says, despite the declaration by the province of a public health emergency.

“It is alarming but it’s been alarming for quite some time,” senior medical health officer Dr. Trevor Corneil cautions. “At the same time, I don’t think we will be able to change that number as fast as some people want. If we can have any sort of impact on the numbers over the next one to 12 months, I would be thrilled.”

Numbers released yesterday by B.C. Coroners Service show 39 overdose deaths within the Interior Health Authority in the first three months of 2016.

That’s almost two/thirds the record 60 deaths that happened all of last year, itself a record number. Corneil says the health authority is seeing between 10 and 15 unconfirmed overdose deaths a month right now.

The public health emergency declared by provincial public health officer Dr. Perry Kendall allows Interior Health’s medical health officers to begin systematically collecting and reporting data from patients, emergency rooms and first responders about live and fatal overdoses and subsequent treatment.

The public health officer said data collected about overdoses would be considered confidential and patients cannot be identified nor have the information used against them by police.

Corneil could not break out numbers for the Interior Health Authority’s with the biggest overdose problem but says Kelowna and Kamloops are obvious places to concentrate efforts to educate users and those around them about drug overdoses and the ways to avoid them.

Corneil says the health authority already provides or supports almost every kind of recognized harm reduction except safe injection. Their response would likely be to try to increase the number of accessibility points for a drug users in a scene that doesn’t look anything like the Lower Mainland.

“This wouldn’t just be for the entrenched person, this would be for first-time users, recreational users, the whole spectrum,” he says.

The health authority is receiving 53 substance abuse beds, Corneil says, in all areas from detox to treatment centres, to bolster addiction treatment services.

Plans for possilbe safe consumption sites in Kelowna and Kamloops are already in development, although Corneil says nothing will happen without some kind of community consultation and the knowledge of local government and police.

Corneil says once data begins to gather under the emergency order, public health will not only use it to warn of overdose spikes and bad drug batches but to immediately use it to refine and more precisely deploy the different harm reduction methods already in use.

Find past stories on the overdose issue here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email John McDonald or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016
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